I was listening to one of my fave news source, Democracy Now the other day and they were interviewing Yale historian Timothy Snyder about his New York Times best-seller On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. He was talking about the most important lessons to keep the U.S. from sliding into fascist authoritarianism.
I was interested to see couched between lofty lessons like “defend institutions” and “be wary of paramilitaries” in this , was simple Lesson Number 12: Make eye contact and small talk.
Timothy explained, “you don’t know who feels left out, who feels threatened. But if you are more pleasant or more affirming to everybody in your daily life, you are going to make a difference.”
He also said that the memoirs of Jewish people of Nazi Germany or of those in Stalinist Soviet Union often cite that moment when people start crossing the street rather than looking at or talking to them as the moment of no return. Timothy warned, “that’s the moment we have to avoid, both for the sake of the political atmosphere, but also for the sake of what kind of people we want to be.”
I was tickled to see this lesson in his book as I’ve long felt that eye contact and engaging others out in the world is key to a healthy society and a healthy self.
I originally hail from “Friendly Manitoba” (seriously, that’s what’s actually written on Manitoba license plates), and when I first moved to the “big city” of Toronto I couldn’t believe that people here didn’t make eye contact and say “Hi!” when they passed. I was determined back then to try not to fall into that pattern of indifference and, over 20 years later, I’m still smiling at folks as I jog past them and starting conversations in the elevator. Yes, some people look at me like I’ve just reached out and poked them, but I can still feel their heart cautiously smiling from being reached out to and seen.
Acknowledging our fellow beings as we sit beside them on a plane, wait in front of them in a line, or drive past them on our street may not seem like much, but it’s remarkably powerful in cutting through that feeling of disconnection that’s so dangerous to our world these days. And imagine if we were all doing it, how much it would soften the hard lines of isolation, division, and intolerance?!
Plus, as long you don’t take any rebukes of your reaching out personally (people sometimes panic and reject things they aren’t used to), the practice of eye contact/talking to strangers can also make you feel more richly connected and less alone. It can be a reminder that despite the increasingly dire news reports, there is still kindness and connection to be found in the world.
So today, Dear One, your mission (if you choose to accept it!) is to make eye contact with everyone you encounter – on the sidewalk, in the hall at work, on the bus, in the aisle at the grocery store – even if just for a brief second. And if making eye contact or chatting feels really uncomfortable for you, just breathe into that discomfort and remember that we’re all made up of the same universal energy, so in a way this person is just an extension of you, and you of them.
If you’ve gone to yoga, you’ve probably heard the greeting “Namaste” a lot. I love this Sanskrit word because it means: I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
Let’s see if we can find a little Namaste in the way we greet each person’s eyes on our path today.
On June 14, I’ll be fasting for 30 hours as part of our Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank‘s big fundraiser of the year — #Fast4Hunger.
I helped start up the food bank in January of 2015 (check out our “A Day at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank” video!). We wanted to create an initiative that addressed both human and animal suffering. The idea was to offer cruelty-free, healthy, and eco-conscious food to those living beneath the poverty line. We thought it was important for the food bank system to reflect the city’s diverse diets and needs. Food banks are used by people who are already incredibly down on their luck and feeling desperate…we didn’t want them to also have to compromise their health or their ethics when they were already in such a vulnerable place.
Pretty well immediately we had people lined up around the block to use the food bank. Today we are serving groceries monthly to almost 300 people…from folks with diabetes or cancer whose doctors have told them they need to switch to a plant-based diet to students barely scraping by to refugees brand new to Canada & struggling to start their life here.
It has truly become a labour of love to be able to help folks through one of the hardest times in their life. I sat with a proud man the other day who, after a lay-off, had been having to use food banks for the first time. As a deeply dedicated animal advocate and vegan, he was leaving most food banks empty-handed because it killed him to also have to betray his most deeply held ethics by eating animal products. We’ve had new clients remark that they couldn’t remember the last time they had a piece of fruit and one of our volunteers was telling me how a woman she was collecting groceries with had to pause over the broccoli and kale because the thought of fresh greens brought her to tears.
If you’d like to help keep the food bank going, you can CLICK HERE TO DONATE to my personal #Fast4Hunger page. xo
SUMMER SOLSTICE EGYPT-STYLE
Celebrate the summer solstice with our Soul Journey to Egypt team! With inspiration from Ancient Egypt, we’ll observe the longest day of the year and robustly welcome in the summer.
I’m going to take us through a powerful process to tap into the fertility of the season to nourish our deepest-held intentions, our Egyptologist Laura Ranieri will share some Ancient Egyptian traditions, and our Travel Guru Anna MacKay will share a little about January’s Soul Journey to Egypt (in case you’re looking for further Egyptian adventures!) We’ll end the evening outdoors with a special ritual to get your summer off to a vibrant and powerful start!
Tickets are only $15 and the proceeds will be going to animal charities Animal Justice and Egyptian Society for Mercy To Animals.
Wed., June 21, 7-9:30pm
My Space – Christie & Bloor Area